There'll be no fireworks over Elliott Bay this year--and if Ben Schroeter has his way, there won't be any over Lake Union either. As the P-I reports this morning, the local activist has filed suit to stop One Reel's fireworks show, arguing that the State Environmental Policy Act requires a review of the event's environmental impacts--something the city has yet to conduct. (See Schroeter's complaint here (Word doc).)
"It's likely I'm not gonna be able to stop it," said Schroeter last week, speaking via phone from his job selling programs outside Safeco Field. He noted his lack of legal expertise and the short period of time between his filing (June 12th) and the event. "But people need to remember that this is a remediated toxic waste site, with 12 to 18 inches dirt and a grass shield cap covering toxic chemicals. People don't understand much about toxic chemicals. I just lost a friend to brain cancer at age 43--this kind of stuff comes from toxins and pesticides. I don't think people take this seriously" Huge crowds and large machinery threaten to release the toxic chemicals, argues Schroeter.He also contends that the fireworks themselves may pose dangers to endangered salmon passing through Lake Union. "One Reel is bragging about exploding 5,000 shells over Lake Union. Has anyone looked at how this is going to affect endangered salmon? Has anyone even spoken with the National Marine Fisheries Service?"
The suit follows the 2005 Friends of Gasworks Park suit to stop the Summer Nights concert series there, in which a judge eventually ruled that the city needed to conduct an environmental review. Schroeter argues that the city has a pattern of trying to push ahead with events and then deal with the consequences later, citing the summer concert series as well as the construction of a firefighter training facility over wetlands at Hamm Creek.
One Reel has not yet responded to requests for comment, but Christopher Williams, deputy superintendent of the Parks Department, says that while the city doesn't believe the event will disturb the protective cap over the toxins, it does believe the event is exempt from SEPA review anyway, as the text of the law exempts one-time civic celebrations. "What makes our city vibrant is the number of civic and cultural events that people are able to go to. That would go away if we had to do a SEPA review every time someone wanted to hold an event in a park."
though City Parks spokesperson Dewey Potter told the P-I that the city should be exempt from the requirements of SEPA review when conducting a long-standing civic event.